What lies in store for African Internet in 2013?
More steady progress, no doubt. But we must remember there is no typical African Internet user. Levels of engagement with digital content vary widely by region, country, and city. Just because a few hundred individuals in a city are creating successful start-ups doesn’t mean the majority of the population even has Internet access. At the same time, progress necessitates a core group of early adopters who can achieve “trickle-down” innovation.
In most rural areas, Internet will not be a priority in 2013, or even in 2014. Still, the net result of the Internet for Africa has so far been very positive, even if it means adjusting cultural habits. Africans continue to adapt Western technology as their own (case in point mobile money).
In general we anticipate positive developments in the coming year:
- Nations to make the best use of international cable capacity. In many cases this means strengthening last-mile connectivity (sometimes fiber-to-the-home, but often better 3G coverage).
- The arrival of 3G in half of countries that currently lack it. Thirty-one African countries had 3G access as of late-2012 and many others had awarded 3G licenses. Expect a new mobile operator in many nations with 3G access. At the same time, expect approximately a dozen African nations to still lack 3G service heading into 2014.
- Continued testing of 4G in the largest cities. Improved infrastructure will allow for the service, but only the most affluent consumers will be able to afford it.
- Emphasis on ICT skills acquisition. Everyone is realizing one cannot simply provide technology and expect people to instantly master its nuances. Children are rapidly learning to use new technologies to improve their futures.
- Increased funding for business pitches. Tech hubs, startup competitions earned substantial international attention in 2012. The question remains when the next M-PESA or Mxit will come along – and from which country.
- Regional collaboration. The Central African Backbone project is one example of how nations with fewer resources are building ICT infrastructure.
- Creation of Internet Exchange Points with the support of the Internet Society and African Union will be key in reducing end-user access costs.
- A growing number of programs support young African women interested in technology. Expect rapid adoption as women (and men) realize how empowering the Internet can be.
- Internet freedom has increased in nearly every country (especially North Africa) since 2010 and continues to do so at a high level. However, bloggers are routinely harassed in at least a dozen countries. Kenya and Zambia are known to patrol their webspace for defamation. Expect more progressive legislation as governments become educated on the nuances of online freedom of speech.
- There will be heavy usage of online tools to follow general/presidential elections in Kenya and Tunisia. Less so in Madagascar, Guinea-Bissau, and Ethiopia.
Despite optimism Africa’s road to tech prosperity will not be easy. Certain sectors will have more success than others. A few challenges we foresee include:
- Mobile Internet growth will accelerate, but smartphones will still be used by a minority. 2G will be the norm until at least 2015 – even in most cities.
- There will be more funding for mobile initiatives, but still not enough. By now, the importance of mobile is well understood. Allocating resources (human and financial) to build out mobile health projects is easier said than done. The same goes for agriculture.
- National programs to register SIM cards. Kenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe have required SIM registration in the past couple of years. Expect more countries to follow suit, for better or worse.
- E-Commerce will grow in 2013, but growth rates will not be high until consumers have more disposable income, have affordable access, and have proper digital payment systems in place.
- Cyber security is still lacking on a global scale, but Africa is doing too little to secure their networks before the influx of international bandwidth. Policy creation is a long road.
- The abandonment of major telecoms monopolies will not happen in 2013 (think Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti).
- Heavy usage of social networks will outweigh more “helpful” content creation. Wikipedia is in need of local content. Africans are constantly urged to create their own content instead of accessing international portals. Still, Facebook dominates the Internet scene.
- Cohesive national ICT policies did not make much headway in 2012.
- The .africa gTLD will go live, but it is unclear how widely it will be used. After all, what about ccTLDs?
What are your predictions for 2013?